Hazelwood neighbor’s yard is certified ‘wild’

What does it take to be awarded the “Backyard Habitats Certification Program” seal of approval?  See for yourself, as outer East Portland’s leading park advocate’s yard is inspected, under the auspices of this unique program …

Hazelwood’s Linda Robinson points out native plants and trees in her back yard to Robin Jensen, from the Audubon Society of Portland.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
From helping to start the “Gateway Green” project, to being involved in numerous parks and green-space related projects, Hazelwood’s Linda Robinson has been an advocate for all things natural for about a decade.

In addition to working on all kinds of parks-related projects, Robinson leads – by example – the recent movement to increase wildlife habitat in suburban settings by turning her backyard into a natural paradise.

When she was visited by an inspector from the “Backyard Habitats Certification Program” — a program operated jointly in the Portland area by Columbia Land Trust and the Audubon Society of Portland, Robinson explained, “Most of this property backs up to the edge of [St. Therese Catholic School and] church; and a little piece nearby is a two-acre lot that is owned by Metro, at the edge of Glendoveer Golf Course – it has a ‘conservation overlay’ on it.”

Robin Jensen, a Backyard Habitat Certification Technician, smiles when she sees what’s been done in this outer East Portland back yard to create wildlife habitat – in a suburban setting.

Starts with a windstorm
Robinson said she and her husband had a typical back yard – trees, with “one little patch of roses in the middle” – until a windstorm and ice storm took out some of the trees, about a decade ago.

“When I was in the midst of a late career change,” Robinson told us, “I decided to do something related to urban wildlife. It was suggested that I volunteer at the Audubon Wildlife Care Center. But, I decided that don’t want to touch, handle, and feed wildlife – I just want to make a natural space for them to live.”

So, she and her husband started turning their backyard into a wildlife habitat, long before doing so was in vogue. “In 1990, we started what ended up being a three-year project; doing it a third at a time. If you do it all at once, the weeding is just terrible. We finished it up in 1993.”

Although the plants are fairly low-maintenance, Robinson said the idea is to let the native species grow, and thus not allow weeds or invasive species to get a foothold.

Robin Jensen walks with and Linda Robinson as they tour her “naturescaped” back yard.

Certification day comes
A few weeks ago, Robin Jensen, Backyard Habitat Certification Technician with the Audubon Society of Portland, came to visit the Robinson home.

“Our program is focused on creating wildlife habitat,” Jensen explained. “What we do is analyze how many, and how much, native plant cover one has in their yard. Also we note what invasive species are there. First, we make sure you don’t have invasive species.”

All about evicting invading plants
Interestingly enough, Jensen pointed out, many people who ask for a visit from a certification technician have properties that are covered in invasive plant species. “They’re just looking for the first steps to take. We help them get started with the program.”

As a certified Master Gardener with the Multnomah County Master Gardener’s program, Jensen is well-qualified to help people get on the road to creating natural environments. “I’ve been working with the program, since it started in 2007, through the Audubon Society.”

Columbia Land Trust and the Audubon Society of Portland started their partnership in January 2009.

As a 17-year volunteer, working in natural areas in Portland area parks, Jensen observed, “All of the work we’ve done removing invasive species there would be for naught, if we still have them coming in from private properties. That’s why we’re involved in creating wildlife habitat on privately-owned land.”

Says wildlife habitat important to balanced ecosystem
About the program, Jensen enthuses, “I’m so passionate about this, I just get really excited. It’s a dream come true, over the last few years, to be working with this program.”

Creating wildlife habitat is important, Jenson went on, “Because we have paved over so much of our city, and we have started losing wildlife corridors [through which] wildlife can travel between natural areas. Creating a natural wildlife habitat area in your yard helps restore that. In exchange, wildlife eats insects and native plants – in all, forming a very happy, balanced ecosystem.”

Other than birds, Robinson says, she doesn’t actually see wildlife romping in her yard – but she sees movement in bushes and plants, which indicates that wildlife does enjoy the natural area provided to them.

The survey begins
“Linda Robinson’s yard is totally ready to be certified,” Jensen said, as she slowly circled the perimeter pathway. “I do see she has some non-native ‘invasives’ with which she’s struggling.”

Robinson and Jenson talk plants and trees during the tour, naming them off too rapidly for us to capture. “Part of the program is to make sure people keep a canopy of trees,” Jensen observed. “I see a lot of good ground cover here, which is great, but there’s also a good level of canopy. Linda knows it takes more than ‘a fern here, and some groundcover there’. You want to have it together, so at least three plants together creates three habitats in the area.”

When asked about wildlife she’s observed, Robinson remarked, “We don’t actually see it. You can see a thicket moving, or hear rustlings; mostly we get birds. We occasionally see squirrels, and a native rabbit. And of course we have raccoons. We have a long history with raccoons.”

In the end, Robinson was presented with a certificate which documented her family’s effort to provide a natural oasis in the midst of suburbia.

Robinson said she’s happy that her yard displays this sign, showing it has been certified under this “Backyard Habitats” program.

The road to certification
Are you interested in participating in this effort, aimed to give technical assistance to small-lot private-property owners (land under 1 acre), to restore native wildlife habitat in backyards, and to help manage on-site stormwater runoff?

You, too, can participate in this unique program. There is a $25 fee for a site visit. All participants, certified or not, receive discounts on native plants, mulch, and tools.

Start by contacting the Columbia Land Trust: CLICK HERE to visit their website. Or, see Audubon Society of Portland’s Backyard Habitat Certification Program web page: CLICK HERE.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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